The GOP Needs To Unite Around One Candidate to Stop Donald Trump – The mayor of Miami, Francis Suarez, has joined the Republican primary for the 2024 presidential election. There are now a remarkable thirteen candidates in that primary, with two others who may enter. The first primary contest – the Iowa Republican caucus – does not occur for another seven months (January 22).
It is remarkable to have a field this crowded this early – particularly when there is an obvious front-runner. Former President Donald Trump leads the pack and has for months. Even his recent indictment has not reduced his lead. He is forty-five percentage points ahead of his closest rival, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.
Where is the Anti-Trump GOP Primacy Candidate?
The most important structural effect of this proliferation of candidates is the prevention of a single, unifying anti-Trump candidate. There is substantial evidence now that Republican elites and, especially, the GOP donor class would like to find an alternative to Trump. Trump’s procession of scandals and bad behavior have damaged his appeal outside the Republican party.
Trump is not a proven winner. He slipped into the presidency in 2016 via the Electoral College. In the midterms of 2018 and 2022, Republicans under-performed, and in 2020, Donald Trump lost the election to current Democratic President Joseph Biden. This will likely happen again in 2024.
The 2024 general election is shaping up to be a repeat 2020 – Trump vs Biden. The result will almost certainly be the same too. Trump and Biden are basically the same candidates today which they were in 2020, and there is no obvious reason to think that Trump can suddenly move five percent of the country’s electorate to achieve victory.
Trump will claim, inevitably, that the election was stolen, but this claim has far less resonance now than it did in 2020. Today, losing GOP candidates routinely claim that elections were rigged against them. The implication of all these allegations is that the whole US voting system is stacked against GOP candidates. Trump voters may go that deeply into conspiracism with him, but it is doubtful that he can pull most of the country with him. These claims routinely fail in the courts. Trump’s 2024 claims will probably fail also.
All this creates room for an anti-Trump Republican candidate to push Trump aside in the primary. The message is obvious: Trump is too polarizing. He lost the popular vote in 2016 and 2020. His endorsed candidates did poorly in 2022. It is time for a new, cleaner, less polarizing Republican to win back the middle, which Trump cannot do.
Primary Fragmentation Helps Donald Trump
This obvious pathway to sidelining Trump requires one figure to unite the disparate anti-Trump Republicans. Trump has a strong personal following in the GOP. Indeed, those voters’ bond to Trump is cult-like. Nothing Trump does seems to shake their support for him. When Trump was indicted this month on a highly specific list of charges, those voters immediately rejected the allegations as politic.
Overcoming this committed Trump bloc in the GOP will require consolidating all other GOP primary voters around an alternative. The most likely figure to do this is DeSantis, but he is an awkward figure. He is cold and bland, and Trump, with his fiery, made-for-TV persona, is already outmaneuvering him. This is likely why others have jumped in. They sense that there is an anti-Trump lane to the nomination, and that DeSantis is not closing the deal.
Positioning for 2028?
The GOP primary is evolving in exactly the opposite manner necessary to displace Donald Trump. Anti-Trumpers have not coalesced around one opposition candidate. DeSantis is flailing, while Trump’s legal troubles only bolster his popularity within the primary. And the growing list of primary opponents only worsens the chances of a single, anti-Trump unity candidate.
We have seen this before, of course. In 2016, the GOP primary played out almost exactly the same way. Trump solidified a committed bloc but not a majority. The other candidates danced around, not quite attacking him, waiting for him to implode, sniping at each other, and so on. After a few primaries, it was too late. Trump had momentum, and despite huge misgivings from many who could see how unfit Trump was, he took the nomination.
It is still early in the race, but this primary is unfolding with surprising parallels to 2016 already. If an anti-Trump coalition does not congeal around someone – likely DeSantis – by the end of the year, it is hard to see Trump losing. All these new candidates joining make that even more likely.
Instead, it strongly signals that they expect Trump to win the 2024 nomination and lose the 2024 general. In other words, they are running to set themselves up for 2028.